Thankfully, the Kitchen Triangle is not the hazard that the Bermuda Triangle is thought to be, and headlines like this one are few and far between. However, a movement has arisen to make the kitchen triangle itself disappear, doing away with this traditional design tool that has guided us for so many years. In my profession, I find myself torn as my hero, Raymond Lowey (greatest industrial designer ever)*, said “never leave well enough alone”. So which is it? Is the kitchen triangle dead like these upstarts are claiming or has it moved to a new plane?
Developed in the 1940’s the kitchen work triangle addressed the efficiency of the relationship of three areas of your kitchen; the cooking area, the preparation area and the food storage area. The cooking area refers to the cooktop, oven and/or range; the preparation area included the sink, and the storage area, where the refrigerator and dry storage are located. The plan was based on a single person (one person, not someone who is single) cooking in a 1940’s sized kitchen. Since then the size of kitchens has increased dramatically and, today, more people are helping prepare meals, whether they are single or married.
If you struggled with 10th grade geometry, this magical shape is the line connecting the stove, (cooking area), fridge (storage area), and sink (prep area), with each of these areas creating one of the points of the triangle. The basic rules were no leg of the triangle should be less than four feet or greater than nine feet and the sum of all three sides should be between 13 and 26 feet.
I recently attended a conference where they discussed the new “Kitchen Work Zone” theory, but when I realized that the work zones were the “cooking zone”, the “preparation zone”, and the “storage zone”, I began to zone out. It sounded suspiciously like new packaging for the old triangle - that they said was kaput! Nevertheless, they did have a valid point regarding the size of new kitchens, which have grown over the years.
In bigger kitchens (which will probably be outlawed by the current NYC mayor) you frequently are blessed with multiple cooking areas, additional preparation areas and a several areas of storage space. Does this mean we should abandon the triangle? Not at all. We just use multiples of them, keeping in mind that you want to avoid crossing the kitchen with hot pots and pans, making sure that the sink isn’t too far from the cooktop and that you have decent storage near (each of) your refrigerators.
If more than one chef will be involved in the preparation of meals, then we need to utilize one triangle for each person. If they overlap, the two triangles will create a STAR! (You can try this at home with pen or pencil). In fact, I think I will give a lecture and call this concept the STAR kitchen design zones, just to confuse everyone.
As usual, most design comes down to common sense. Once your designer has created a plan, review it carefully and make sure that the basics of the original triangle have been adhered to where possible and that nothing seems “out of whack!” If the fridge is 25 feet away from the sink, you’re going to be miserable, no matter how pretty the kitchen looks.
* Among a million other things, Raymond Lowey designed my favorite car, the Studebaker Avanti; my favorite locomotive, the GG-1; the interior of Skylab (back when we had a space program); the interior of the Concorde supersonic jet; the Coke bottle and their vending machines; the Shell and Exxon logos, etc. etc.